No one associated with Elizabethton, not the lineup and certainly not the bullpen, wanted to let Tim Shibuya down on Saturday evening. They didn't. In fact, they lifted him up.
Shibuya pitched seven near-perfect innings, overcoming two catcher's interference calls, and Garrett Jewell and Steven Gruver finished off the no-hitter as the Rookie-level Twins blanked the Greeneville Astros, 6-0.
The trio of 2011 Draft picks also extended Elizabethton's winning streak to seven games.
"Obviously, most of the game is on Tim's shoulders. We wouldn't even have had the chance it wasn't for him," said Gruver, who record the 26th and 27th outs on strikeouts. "We didn't want to talk about [the no-hitter] too much in the bullpen, we didn't want to jinx it or anything. We all knew it was there. ... It was just cool to watch."
The no-hitter was the Appalachian League's first since Danville's Cory Rasmus pitched a seven-inning gem on Aug. 11, 2009. Elizabethton also became the second Minnesota affiliate this season to combine on one: Triple-A Rochester's Jeff Manship, Jake Stevens, Kyle Waldrop and Jim Hoey no-hit Lehigh Valley on July 6.
"That's probably the first no-hitter I have been a part of since Little League," said Jewell, who roomed with Shibuya while beginning their professional careers training at the Twins' complex in Fort Myers, Fla. "We've been friends the whole season so far, so this is nice for him."
Shibuya, a 23rd-round pick out of UC-San Diego, retired the first and final 10 batters he faced. In between were two bizarre plays that produced Greeneville's lone baserunners: Catcher Jairo Rodriguez was charged with interference twice in a three-batter span.
"I threw an 0-2 curveball to a lefty," Shibuya said, "and I don't know if it started coming back over the plate, but Jairo reached for it. ... I don't know what happened. I heard a little 'pimph' first and then the ball."
Then, with Chase Davidson in the batter's box, plate umpire Charlie Clemons cited Rodriguez again.
"It was a bad call; [Clemens] heard the ball hit the bat first, [but] the catcher's glove actually went backwards," Shibuya said. "I thought it was a foul ball."
To Rodriguez's credit, Shibuya (4-0) said he and his batterymate were in sync throughout the game. And it showed. Shibuya, who limited Kingsport to two hits over six scoreless innings in his second pro start on June 30, struck out six and registered 10 outs on the ground.
"It was in the back of my mind, but until we broke it open in [with four fourth-inning runs], I was more just making sure to keep the team in the game," said the 21-year-old right-hander, who threw between 86-89 pitches. "I have never come this close."
Jewell was an unlikely choice to keep the no-hit bid intact. He'd surrendered 10 runs over his previous 3 1/3 innings.
"It's almost like a pick-me-up," said Jewell, who started out as a position player at Southern New Hampshire and was surprised he was drafted at all last month. "The last few outings, I have been worried about other stuff [mechanics] instead of good outings."
Jewell, selected eight rounds after Shibuya, got off to an inauspicious start. The 21-year-old righty walked a batter, then had another on third baseman Miguel Sano's error but rebounded by inducing a double play and an inning-ending fly ball.
"The first batter, I plunked with a curveball. After that, I was like, 'OK, I'm not going to start off with anymore curveballs. I am just going to work down in the zone and let the guys get themselves out,'" he said. "It was nice to come through for Shibuya. I definitely didn't want to be the guy to give up the hit."
There was less drama for Gruver, a 22-year-old lefty chosen in the seventh round. He finished his 1-2-3 frame with back-to-back strikeouts.
"I was pumped to get in there," the University of Tennessee product said. "I had three outs. I didn't try to make a bigger deal of it than it was. ... I wanted to cap off what Shibuya did the whole game. It was a good feeling to end it that way."
The Twins carved out their six runs on seven hits, including five for extra bases, against starter Ricardo Batista (1-1) and Jeremiah Meiners, the first of three relievers.